2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:15
While David’s army, under Joab’s command, was besieging the Ammonite city, Rabbah, David looked from his high perch on the roof of his palace and saw Bathsheba, naked and beautiful, bathing in her courtyard. He inquired and learned that she was the wife of Uriah, one of David’s best soldiers. Uriah was at Rabbah with Joab. David had Bathsheba brought to the palace where he committed adultery with her—and she became pregnant (11:1-5).
David, on the pretext of inquiring about the battle, had Uriah brought back to Jerusalem so that Uriah would sleep with his wife. It would then appear that Bathsheba’s baby was Uriah’s baby. However, Uriah turned out to be a principled man who would not enjoy the comforts of hearth and home while his fellow soldiers were encamped at Rabbah. David even tried getting Uriah drunk in the hopes that Uriah would let down his guard and go home to his wife, but Uriah refused to do that (11:6-13).
So David sent word by Uriah’s hand telling Joab to put Uriah in the front of the battle and to withdraw his support so that Uriah would be killed. If Joab had followed David’s orders to the letter, it would have been obvious to Joab’s soldiers that Joab had betrayed Uriah. Joab therefore improvised on David’s plan so that other men would also die with Uriah—making it appear that they were routine battle casualties. His scheme worked, and Uriah and a number of other soldiers died at Rabbah. Joab then sent word back to David, telling first of the multiple deaths and then emphasizing that Uriah was also dead (11:14-21).
David responded to that message by sending this reply to Joab: “Don’t let this thing displease you (literally, “Do not let this matter be evil in your eyes”), for the sword devours one as well as another. Make your battle stronger against the city, and overthrow it” (11:25).
2 SAMUEL 11:26-27a. BATHSHEBA MADE LAMENTATION FOR HER HUSBAND
26When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she made lamentation for her husband. 27aWhen the mourning was past, David sent and took her home to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.
“When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she made lamentation for her husband“ (v. 26). Referring to Bathsheba as “the wife of Uriah” rather than by her name re-emphasizes David’s sin.
Mourning rituals in that time and place conformed to certain conventions, such as rending one’s garments (2 Samuel 1:11), wearing sackcloth (2 Samuel 3:31), fasting (2 Samuel 1:12), singing dirges (2 Samuel 1:17-27), weeping and wailing (Jeremiah 9:18), and scattering ashes on ones head or clothing (2 Samuel 13:19). People often hired professional mourners “skillful in lamentation” (Amos 5:16; Jeremiah 9:17).
It is difficult to imagine Bathsheba weeping and wailing over her fallen husband, but there is no reason to believe that her grief is not genuine. Uriah was a great warrior—a strong man—highly principled. Bathsheba is bound to have good memories of him. Her loss is quite real.
We have no idea whether David let Bathsheba know of his intention to marry her after her mourning period. She might be worried about becoming a poor widow.
“When the mourning was past, David sent and took her home to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son“ (v. 27a). While Israel mourned Moses for thirty days (Deuteronomy 34:8), the more usual mourning period was seven days (Genesis 50:10).
It is difficult to imagine David being so brazen as to bring Bathsheba to his house immediately after her seven day period of mourning. We aren’t told that he did so immediately, but only that it was after the mourning was completed that he did so. However, he married her before the baby was born, so he didn’t delay very long.
2 SAMUEL 11:27b – 12:4: YAHWEH SENT NATHAN TO DAVID
27bBut the thing that David had done displeased Yahweh. 12:1Yahweh sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. 2The rich man had very many flocks and herds, 3but the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and raised. It grew up together with him, and with his children. It ate of his own food, drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was to him like a daughter. 4A traveler came to the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man who had come to him, but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man who had come to him.”
“But the thing that David had done displeased Yahweh“ (v. 27b). A literal translation of the Hebrew is, “But the thing that David had done was evil in the eyes of Yahweh,” which parallels David’s earlier words to Joab, “Don’t let this thing displease you” (literally, “Do not let this matter be evil in your eyes”) (v. 25a). The translation obscures this linkage.
The actions of David and Joab regarding Uriah were evil, and we are not surprised to learn that the Lord regards it as such.
“Yahweh sent Nathan to David“ (v. 1a). We last heard of Nathan in chapter 7, where he was identified as a prophet. When David became interested in building a temple, he consulted the prophet Nathan, who initially approved the idea. Then the Lord told Nathan to instruct David not to build the temple. The Lord said that he would build David a house—meaning a lineage.
We won’t hear of Nathan again until David’s son, Adonijah, decides to usurp the throne. Nathan will not side with Adonijah, and will be instrumental in honoring David’s wish to have Solomon anointed as king (1 Kings 1).
“He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor“ (v. 1b). Nathan begins by telling David a story. It is really a parable or mashal—a story with a surprise “hook” in its tail—but David has no way of knowing that. As king, David often presides as a judge, and he assumes that Nathan is describing a real-life situation that will require a judgment.
Nathan begins by contrasting the wealth of one man with the poverty of another.
“The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and raised“ (vv. 2-3a). The contrast continues. The rich man has many flocks—not just many sheep, but “many flocks and herds.” A man this rich probably has only a rough idea how many sheep he actually owns. In each of his many flocks, new lambs would be born and others would die or wander away. It would be quite a job to determine the exact number of sheep in his many flocks at any given moment. One sheep more or less would have no effect at all on his lifestyle.
But the poor man owns only “one little ewe lamb, which he had bought.” When a person has only one lamb, that lamb becomes precious. The loss of a lamb to this poor man could be the difference between eating and staving—between life and death.
“It (the little ewe lamb) grew up together with him (the poor man), and with his children. It ate of his own food, drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was to him like a daughter“ (v. 3b). But now we learn that this poor man has adopted his lamb as a pet—as a beloved member of his family. He doesn’t think of the lamb as his livelihood, but as a vital part of his life. He doesn’t intend to feed on the lamb, but instead feeds the lamb “of his own food.” The lamb even drinks from the poor man’s personal cup. This man apparently has no family—nobody to love. This little lamb is like a daughter to him.
“A traveler came to the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man who had come to him, but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man who had come to him“ (v. 4). This is where the story becomes compelling.
In a world where there were few inns, people relied on the hospitality of others—even strangers—in ways that are difficult for us to imagine today. People were obligated to feed and house travelers—to treat them as honored guests.
In this story, a traveler—probably a stranger—comes to this rich man and the rich man becomes his host—albeit reluctantly. The rich man knows that he is obligated to feed this traveler, but is loath to sacrifice one of his own sheep for this purpose. Therefore, he takes the poor man’s lamb, kills it, and serves it to his guest for dinner. His evil deed contrasts sharply with his act of hospitality.
2 SAMUEL 12:5-6: DAVID’S ANGER WAS GREATLY KINDLED
5David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As Yahweh lives, the man who has done this is worthy to die! (Hebrew: ben·ma·wet —is a son of death) 6He shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity!”
“David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, ‘As Yahweh lives, the man who has done this is worthy to die‘” (ben·ma·wet —son of death) (v. 5). Nathan has done his job well. His story has hooked David’s anger, and David responds accordingly. His comment that the man is “a son of death” (usually interpreted to mean that he deserves to die) is not a legal judgment. His comment is more akin to someone saying, “Someone ought to shoot that SOB.”
“He shall restore the lamb fourfold“ (v. 6a). Exodus 22:1 specifies that a person who steals an ox must repay five for one, and a person who steals a sheep must repay four for one. David is relying on this provision of Torah law to prescribe the penalty that the rich man must pay.
This provision of the Torah could be ruinous for some people. A requirement to repay eighty sheep for twenty that were stolen could ruin a thief financially. However, in this case, the rich man can easily afford four sheep.
But, as we shall see, David will pay a much more terrible penalty for his sin than the loss of four sheep (see the comments below on v. 10).
“because he did this thing, and because he had no pity“ (v. 6b). The rich man is guilty of two evils—his evil deed and his lack of compassion. In fact, we could say that his lack of compassion is the root of his evil deed. The rich man was evil because he had no compassion for the poor man—just as David was evil because he had no compassion for Uriah. The rich man had the poor man’s lamb killed, just as David had Uriah murdered.
2 SAMUEL 12:7-9. YOU ARE THE MAN
7Nathan said to David, “You are the man. This is what Yahweh, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. 8 I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that would have been too little, I would have added to you many more such things. 9Why have you despised the word of Yahweh, to do that which is evil in his sight? You have struck Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.
“Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man‘” (v. 7a). Nathan delivers the parable’s sting. His four words (only two words in Hebrew) pull the veil away from this parable and allow David to see his own evil deed clearly for the first time.
Nathan has been charged by the Lord to deliver this stinging rebuke to David (v. 1a), and Nathan delivers it without hesitation. It is a dangerous moment, though. Nathan must wonder if he will survive this confrontation. David has shown himself to be capable of murder, and prophets often die for their efforts (Matthew 5:12; 23:30-31, 37).
“This is what Yahweh, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel’“ (v. 7b). The first gift that the Lord gave David was his anointing as king.
David was anointed three times. The first time occurred when David was still a boy and the Lord told Samuel to anoint him as king (1 Samuel 16:1-13). That was a secret anointing—only Samuel and David’s family were aware of it—but it represented the Lord’s selection of David to replace Saul as king. The second anointing took place later, when David was anointed king over Judah at Saul’s death (2:4). The third anointing took place even later, when David was anointed king over Israel (5:3). But it was the first anointing—the one where the Lord chose David to replace Saul as king—that was decisive. The other two anointings were simply the logical outgrowth of that anointing.
“and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul“ (v. 7c). The second gift that the Lord gave David was protection from Saul’s murderous rages.
Saul became jealous when the conquering heroes returned home after the death of Goliath and defeat of the Philistines. The women greeted them by singing, “Saul has slain his thousands, David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7). In his jealousy, Saul tried to kill David (1 Samuel 18:10-11). They achieved an uneasy truce, but Saul tried again to kill David (1 Samuel 19:8-17). David and Jonathan devised a plan whereby Jonathan could warn David if Saul was in one of his murderous moods (1 Samuel 20). David eluded Saul in the wilderness (1 Samuel 23:15-29). Saul took three thousand soldiers to hunt for David, but the Lord made it possible for David to kill Saul, but David spared Saul’s life. David made this known to Saul, who then relented (1 Samuel 24). After Samuel’s death, Saul again took three thousand soldiers to hunt David, and David once again spared Saul’s life (1 Samuel 26). Finally the Philistines killed Saul and three of Saul’s sons, paving the way for David to become king (1 Samuel 31).
“I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom“ (v. 8a). The third gift that the Lord gave David was Saul’s house and wives.
The word “house” in this context apparently means Saul’s place as king as well as all of Saul’s possessions. We aren’t sure what “your master’s wives” means, because there is no record of David taking Saul’s wives as his own. However, women were regarded as the possessions of their husband, so “your master’s house” and “your master’s wives” is probably just another way of saying, “everything that belonged to Saul.”
“and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah“ (v. 8b). The fourth gift that the Lord gave to David was the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
“and if that would have been too little, I would have added to you many more such things“ (v. 8c). After recounting these four magnificent gifts, the Lord makes it clear that he would have given David whatever else David needed. David has absolutely no excuse for taking that which belonged to another.
“Why have you despised the word of Yahweh, to do that which is evil in his sight?“ (v. 9a). When David committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for Uriah’s murder, he was not simply committing an offense against them. He was despising the word of the Lord and doing what was evil in the Lord’s sight.
The word of the Lord is powerful and authoritative—not something to be despised. It was the Lord’s word that created the heavens and the earth. When the Lord said, “Let there be light,”…, and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). Throughout human history, the Lord used his word to guide, direct, and save his people. To despise the word of the Lord is to despise the Lord—to live blindly and rebelliously.
We should note that when Saul “rejected the word of Yahweh, and Yahweh has rejected you from being king over Israel” (1 Samuel 15:26). By despising the word of the Lord, David has opened himself to the same kind of judgment that Saul experienced at the Lord’s hands.
We should also note that Eli’s sons “despised the offering of Yahweh” (1 Samuel 2:17)—and their penalty was death (1 Samuel 2:34; 4:11).
“You have struck Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon“ (v. 9b). The Lord has listed the gifts that he has given to David (vv. 7-8). Now he lists the ways that David has been unfaithful. He has killed Uriah and has taken Uriah’s wife as his own.
It may have been the sword of the Ammonites that actually did the killing work, but they were only acting as David’s unwitting agents. David told Joab to put Uriah in the front of the battle where the Ammonites would kill Uriah, and that is exactly what happened. The plan was David’s, and so was the guilt.
“You have struck Uriah the Hittite with the sword” According to the report that Joab sent back to David, Uriah actually died at the hands of Ammonite archers, who shot at Uriah from the wall of their city (2 Samuel 11:24). “With the sword” in this context is a metaphor for a lethal weapon.
2 SAMUEL 12:10-12. THE SWORD WILL NEVER DEPART FROM YOUR HOUSE
10Now therefore the sword will never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11“This is what Yahweh says: ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he will lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.'”
“Now therefore the sword will never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife“ (v. 10). The Lord outlined the gifts that he has given David (vv. 7-8) and the nature of David’s treachery (v. 9). Now he begins to outline the penalties that David can expect to face. The first penalty is that “the sword will never depart from your house.”
When David received the message that Uriah and a number of other soldiers died at the hands of the Ammonites, he sent this message to Joab: “Don’t let this thing displease you, for the sword devours one as well as another” (11:25).
Now the sword will begin to devour David’s house. Bathsheba’s child will die (12:15b-23). David’s son, Amnon, will rape his sister, Tamar (13:1-22), and Absalom will avenge Tamar by killing Amnon (13:23-38). Then Absalom will rebel against David, and Joab will kill him (15:1-12; 18:1-18). Later, David’s son, Adonijah will vie for the throne, and Solomon will have him killed (1 Kings 1-2, esp. 2:24-25).
So four of David’s sons will die—three violently. Is it a coincidence that David, in response to Nathan’s parable, judged that the rich man “shall restore the lamb fourfold” (v. 6a)? Is it coincidence that Exodus 22:1 specifies that a person who steals a sheep must repay four for one? While we are not told that four of David’s sons will die as the penalty for the murder of Uriah, we are told that Bathsheba’s baby will die for this reason—and we know that three of David’s other sons will die violently.
“This is what Yahweh says: ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he will lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun“ (vv. 11-12). This will come true when Absalom rebels against David and tries to usurp the throne. On the advice of Ahithophel, who had previously served as David’s counselor (15:12), Absalom will defile David’s wives, and will make that fact public (16:15-23).
A side note: Ahithophel was Bathsheba’s grandfather. Eliam is one of the Thirty—David’s cadre of great warriors. Ahithophel the Gilonite is listed as Eliam’s father (23:34), and Eliam is mentioned as Bathsheba’s father (11:3). Perhaps David’s murder of Uriah is the reason Ahithophel defects to Absalom. Perhaps it is the reason that he advises Absalom to publicly humiliate David by defiling David’s wives.
2 SAMUEL 12:13-15. I HAVE SINNED AGAINST YAHWEH
13David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against Yahweh.”
Nathan said to David, “Yahweh also has put away your sin. You will not die. 14However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to Yahweh’s enemies to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.” 15Nathan departed to his house.
Yahweh struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it was very sick.
“David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against Yahweh‘” (v. 13a). To his credit, David does not make excuses or lash out at the prophet who gave him the bad news. Instead, he acknowledges his sin in six short words (only two words in Hebrew).
This is a crucial moment. If David persisted in rebellion at this point, the Lord would surely bring him to an end. But the Lord appreciates confession and repentance. David’s acknowledgement of his sin makes it possible for him to experience God’s grace.
“Nathan said to David, ‘Yahweh also has put away your sin. You will not die'” (v. 13b). Adultery is prohibited by the Torah, and the penalty is death (Exodus 20:14; Leviticus 18:20; 20:10; Deuteronomy 5:18; 22:22). The penalty for murder is also death (Exodus 21:12; Leviticus 24:17). David is, in effect, a two-time loser. He deserves to die twice over. But the Lord forgives repentant David. The Lord will not require his life.
“However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to Yahweh’s enemies to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die“ (v. 14). But, if the Lord will not require David’s life, David will not escape without penalty. The penalty is that David’s child by Bathsheba will die. See the comments on verse 10 above regarding the violent deaths of three of David’s other sons.
“Nathan departed to his house“ (v. 15a). A prophet’s purpose is to speak God’s word. Nathan has done that bravely and well. Now he repairs to his house. We will not hear of him again until Adonijah tries to usurp David’s throne in favor of his brother, Solomon, as David lies on his death bed (1 Kings 1).
“Yahweh struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it was very sick” (v. 15b). David’s child does, in fact, die.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2008, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan